Our Ongoing Conversion and the Week of Christian Unity

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Elena Alvarez pddm 2003

St. Paul Evangelizing with the Word of God by Sr. Elena Alvarez, Pauline Sister Disciple of the Divine Master, 2003

“Paul describes the work of the gospel in terms of the divine “word,” referring to the powerful divine activity both in bringing people to faith and in transforming their lives” (N.T. Wright).

The Week of Christian Unity begins January 18th during the novena to St. Paul (16th-25th) for the Feast of his Conversion. Each year there is a different theme and suggested prayers and readings. This week is a privileged moment for prayer, encounter and dialogue. It is an opportunity to recognize the richness and value that are present in the other, the different, and to ask God for the gift of unity. [1]

My Pauline community (Daughters of St. Paul) sings a novena to St. Paul each year, [2] honoring his transformation in Christ, while praying for our own ongoing conversion. After all Christian Unity begins with our communal unity which begins with our conversion.

Saul, persecutor of the Christian Church began calling himself Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, after his conversion. Born and raised in the city of Tarsus (Acts 21.39), a crossroads of the world, a great trade center on the Mediterranean and a university town filled with young scholars and philosophers, Saul was a devout Jew (Phil. 3:5). He traveled to Jerusalem for his religious studies. As a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Phil. 3:5) his life dream was to “sit at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3) the most distinguished and revered living rabbi in his time.

Growing up in Tarsus as a devout Jew and later sitting at the feet of Gamaliel started Paul on the road to conversion. He alludes to this in Galatians 1:15-16: “When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace.” At one point in his life Saul resisted ongoing conversion. He became fundamentalist in his approach to followers of the Way of Jesus. He participated in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:59) and persecuted the Church: “entering into every house, and hauling men and women out, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Even though Gamaliel taught him that God is the One who judges, Saul thought he alone heard the voice of God.

Paul attributes his striking religious conversion on the road to Damascus to God, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 2:8). Religious conversion always results from a divine intervention. His initial conversion (Acts 9) sowed the seeds of his “continual conversion.” Paul became attentive to the need for conversion in every area of his life testifying that “the grace he has given me had not been without result (1 Cor. 15:10).

The Word of God is also alive and active for our continual conversion. One of the key terms Paul uses is the Greek word energeō, to be at work. The Word, he says, is “at work” in you. N. T. Wright tells us that Paul “speaks of the powerful divine word as a transforming energy which, though unleashed through his own announcement of the gospel, is much greater than the sum of his own words or his rhetorical skill. ‘We know,’ he says, ‘that God has chosen you, because our gospel did not come to you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in full conviction’ (1:4-5).” In 1 Thessalonians 2.13 Paul develops the theme further. We always thank God, he says, “that when you received the word which you heard from us you received it, not as the word of human beings, but as what it really is, the word of God which is at work in you believers.” [3]

Our Pauline Chapel in Los Angeles, CA

Our Pauline Chapel in Los Angeles, CA

As testimony to this we have written on the walls of all our Pauline chapels the words “live in continual conversion” sometimes translated “be sorry for sin” while the original Latin “Cors poenitens tenete” means “live with a penitent heart.” The exhortation to live in continual conversion is a core charismatic principle and belief of Pauline Christian living. This exhortation does not place emphasis on our efforts to avoid sin and live in conversion as it seems to do. Our founder, Blessed Alberione received these words through revelation in a time of particular difficulty: “While examining all of his actions anew to see if there were impediments to the work of grace on his part, it seemed that the Divine Master wanted to assure the Institute, launched just a few years earlier…. In truth Jesus Master was saying: ‘Do not be afraid; I am with you; from here (pointing to the tabernacle with great emphasis) I want to enlighten. Live with a penitent heart’” (Abundantes Divitia Gratiae Suae; 151-152).

Ongoing conversion is at the heart of Christian experience. Jesus himself called for our ongoing conversion as he announced: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). So that the grace given us will not be without result Alberione wrote, “the secret of success is to model oneself on God by living in the Church and for the Church; of being wild olives grafted onto the olive tree, the Eucharistic Lord; of reflecting and nourishing oneself with every Word of the Gospel, in accord with the spirit of St Paul” (Abundantes Divitia Gratiae Suae; 94-95). His prayer, “Jesus live in our mind, will and heart, that we live in faith…unite us to you, incarnated sanctity, in whom is the divine life” (Until Christ be Formed in You, 60) is one of trust that God’s Word and Eucharist, at work in us, transforms us into Christ (Gal. 2:20).

Lectio Divina for the Feast of the Conversion in honor of Jesus, Way, Truth, Life  

Lectio (Truth) Read 1 Corinthians 15:10 in which Paul presents us with a synopsis of his conversion and his correspondence to this grace. Pay careful attention attending to your inner response.

Meditatio (Way) Meditate on how St. Paul has captured the eternal struggle that we all go through in our call to conversion. “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” ‘Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15; 24-25). Blessed Alberione tells us of himself, “Here is a half-blind man, who is being led; and in moving along he is enlightened from time to time, so that he can proceed further: God is the light” (AD, 202).

Contemplatio (Life) Contemplate in the light of this passage. Christ’s redemptive death inaugurates the new creation: “By new creation, Paul means that God in Christ has created humanity anew, giving it newness of life” (Romans 6:4), a life in union with the risen Christ, “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), a life destined to share in the glory of God.  After encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus Paul uses the expression to be or to live in Christ 164 times. Through baptism the resurrected, glorified Christ truly dwells within us (Galatians 2:20). Through the Holy Spirit Christ brings about our ongoing conversion that we might live in Christ (Colossians 3:10).

Actio (Live) Act on God’s invitation. Paul admitted that he was still on the road to conversion, “I do not consider that I have made it my own, I strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Oratio (Pray) Live in us Jesus, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that we may love you with our whole heart, love you with our whole mind, love you with our whole will, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Make us faithful witnesses to your Word.  May your grace in us be fruitful! (Cf. Blessed James Alberione)

Copyright 2015, Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp

Images: 

  • St. Paul Evangelizing with the Word of God by Sr. Elena Alvarez, Pauline Sister Disciple of the Divine Master, 2003.
  • Our Pauline Chapel in Los Angeles, CA by Daughters of St. Paul. All rights reserved.

  • Vatican Web Site Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2015

[1] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20140611_week-prayer-2015_en.html

  • Latin/English Novena to St. Paul for the Feast of his Conversion

[2]http://liberhymnarius.org/index.php?title=Pressi_malorum&oldid=949

  • N.T. Wright’s Article Paul and the Powerful Word

[3]http://americamagazine.org/paul-and-powerful-word

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About Author

A Daughter of St. Paul for 40 years Sr. Margaret continues to pursue new ways to proclaim the Gospel: sharing the Pauline Charism with the laity, writing books (St. Anthony of Padua: Fire & Light; Strength in Darkness: John of the Cross; Prayers for the New Evangelization), & through direct evangelization. She is available for workshops on the Vocation & Mission of the Laity, Media Literacy, and The New Evangelization. [email protected]

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